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In Focus: Canada's Cruise Ban

Canada announces year-long ban of most cruise ships

In a major blow to the Alaska and Canada/New England cruise markets, Canada announced a year-long ban on cruise ships.

This applies to ships carrying more than 100 people through Feb. 28, 2022, and means a stunning double-season hiatus in some of cruising's key destinations following the cancellation of Alaska and Canada/New England cruising in 2020.

Great Lakes, St. Lawrence and Canadian Arctic expedition cruises are also impacted.

Doubts about a 2021 Alaska season had been growing but the duration of Canada's extension still came as a shock to many. 

Minister of Transport Omar Alghabra issued the new guidance with the view to keeping Canadians and transportation workers safe and healthy as top priorities.

Risk to health care systems

The government said cruise vessels in Canadian waters pose a risk to health care systems, adding it will continue to evaluate the situation and make changes as necessary to ensure the health and safety of Canadians.

Orders could be rescinded if situation changes

Should the COVID-19 pandemic sufficiently improve to allow the resumption of these activities, the minister of transport has the ability to rescind the interim orders.

'As Canadians continue to do their part to reduce the spread of COVID-19, our government continues to work hard to ensure Canada's transportation system remains safe. Temporary prohibitions to cruise vessels and pleasure craft are essential to continue to protect the most vulnerable among our communities and avoid overwhelming our health care systems. This is the right and responsible thing to do,' Alghabra said.

Advice against Canadians taking cruises

Canada also reiterated its advice to citizens and permanent residents to avoid all travel on cruise ships outside Canada until further notice.

Arctic coastal waters

In addition, adventure-seeking pleasure craft remain prohibited from entering Arctic waters, and passenger vessels carrying more than 12 people are still prohibited from entering Arctic coastal waters, including Nunatsiavut, Nunavik and the Labrador Coast.

There is no national ban for smaller cruise ships certified to carry 100 or fewer people. They must follow provincial, territorial, local and regional health authority protocols for timelines and processes around their operations.

Transport Canada said essential passenger vessels, such as ferries and water taxis, should continue to follow local public health guidance and protocols, and follow mitigation measures to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and prevent future outbreaks.

Carnival Corp. looking at options to preserve part of Alaska season

Carnival Corp. & plc expressed its disappointment, noting that if the extension is not amended as pandemic conditions improve, or through action by US authorities, the company's brands will have to cancel their Alaska and Canada/New England seasons.

'Given the unexpected length of the order, it will take us some time to assess whether there are any options to preserve a portion of the 2021 Alaska season,' the company said in a statement. 'We will be consulting authorities in both the US and Canada before we take any additional action.'

Carnival added the cruise industry has demonstrated its commitment to health and safety by developing extensive protocols in consultation with a panel of world-class medical experts, to be implemented when service resumes.

'In addition, we recognize our importance to the economic health of many Alaskan communities and will continue to pursue any option which might permit safe operation of any portion of the season,' the company continued.

Denali, Fairbanks, Kenai lodges will operate

Though Carnival Corp.'s cruise program is uncertain, the company committed to operating its Denali, Fairbanks and Kenai lodges this summer to support land vacations in Alaska’s interior and help fellow Alaska businesses and the thousands of people who rely on the tourism industry.

'While this is beyond our control, we remain committed to operating any portion of our Alaska season and we are hopeful that positive progress relative to the pandemic accelerates to the point that the Canadian transport minister will rescind the interim order and allow cruise vacations to resume in 2021,' Carnival said.

NCLH isn't canceling cruises visiting Canada yet

Meanwhile, Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings is 'currently studying the order and its implications' and has not canceled cruises that visit Canadian ports.

'We are currently exploring several initiatives that may allow such cruises to continue, especially for the important Alaska season,' the company said. 'Given the fluidity of the current environment, we will also continue to work with the Canadian government to amend their current suspension.' 

Royal Caribbean Group

Royal Caribbean Group said only: 'We understand and appreciate the Canadian government’s focus on combatting COVID-19. The health and safety of our guests, crew and communities we visit is our top priority. Royal Caribbean Group is ready to work with health and transportation officials on a path forward to address the impact on multiple sectors of the Canadian economy.

'We will be reaching out to our guests and travel partners with more information on future plans.'

Great Lakes reaction

Reacting to the news, Stephen Burnett, executive director of The Great Lakes Cruise Association, said: 'We respect this decision by Transport Canada on behalf of the federal government. The Great Lakes Cruise Association is working closely with the Association of Canadian Port Authorities' Cruise Committee who have launched an historic initiative that brings together all ports and regional authorities, regional associations and other cruise ports from across Canada as one voice engaged in meaningful dialogue and to provide input into the government of Canada for the eventual resumption of cruise activity in Canada.

'Together our industry is optimistic that, when the time is right and it is safe to do so, cruise will be back.  At that point we will look forward to welcoming cruise lines, their guests and crew back to our port cities and local communities.'

Vancouver and economic impact

The Port of Vancouver concurred, voicing its support for the direction of Transport Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada while adding it will work together with other Canadian cruise ports through the Association of Canadian Port Authorities to develop 'consistent national safety protocols for the resumption of cruising across Canada as soon as conditions allow.'

The port added that Vancouver's cruise industry will be critical to the region's recovery. Cruising stimulates $3.17m in direct economic activity for each ship that calls at Canada Place, and $2.2bn of total economic impact.

How Cruise the Saint Lawrence will use the pause

During this pause, Cruise the Saint Lawrence said it will push forward with the development of a Health Safety Plan as well as a Sustainable Development Strategy to ensure that all sectoral players enjoy a safe, profitable and sustainable relaunch in 2022.

'The outlook for the resumption of activities in 2022 appears positive,' the association continued, 'with 200 port bookings to date, representing an estimated 300,000 passenger-days for our member ports of call, significant economic benefits for the tourism industry as a whole and 100,000 overnight stays for hotels in Québec and Montréal.'

According to Tony Boemi, president of Cruise the Saint Lawrence, 'This latest pause will enable us to continue work on innovative passenger and ship greeting initiatives. In this regard, implementation of our Sustainable Development Strategy has begun. This strategy is designed to help us rethink how we do what we do, enhance our contribution to socioeconomic vitality in Québec and preserve local ecosystems.'